Minnesota Football: Big Ten Pride, Conference Solidarity, And Gopher Football

Gregory Shamus

"What Big Ten teams will you cheer for?" This question gets asked every bowl season and too often the discussion revolves around what teams we like and what teams we hate. But what if we're asking the wrong question?

I was bouncing around the SB Nation network last night (lots of good stuff out there!) and I came across a piece on Corn Nation talking about how badly the Big Ten needs bowl wins to improve the perception of the conference. (NOTE: There's more to it, like simulations for wins, so take a look when you're done here). This is a pretty common topic this time of year. B1G fans lament the need for wins, complain about how the B1G bowl schedule (especially when there are two B1G reps in the BCS) is more difficult than the schedules of other conferences, etc, etc.

The question of what Big Ten teams to cheer for leads to fun but repetitive discussions.

It got me thinking about the more Gopher specific version of this conversation that arises at specific points in the year (bowl season, NCAA tournament, etc). The conversation about who we as a Minnesota fanbase should/shouldn't or do/do not cheer for when it comes to our fellow conference members. While fun and often heated enough to generate a lot of comments, it tends to create pretty repetitive discussions. In fact, I suspect that if I ended this post right now I could predict much of the ensuing conversation in the comments. That's because even members of a smart and diverse group like the TDG community have pretty well established views on the subject of B1G solidarity. These views are amplified if the question being asked is based around how we feel about other teams and schools.

However this piece is not going to stop right here. Because I think there is a better (or at least, more interesting) question out there. For whatever reason, that Corn Nation article made me think about a conversation I had with a Badger loving friend last year. It was bowl season, and he was asking me why I would cheer for the Badgers to lose when a 3rd straight loss in the Rose Bowl would simply reinforce the perception that the B1G is weak. Didn't I care that the Gophers future rankings or the national perception of Minnesota's accomplishments might be diminished? My response was a laugh and an emphatic "NO."

National perception of the B1G as weak doesn't hurt the Gophers...yet.

My reasoning was simple and it is an opinion that I've seen shared here at TDG and elsewhere on the Gopher intertubes...that a perception of the Big Ten as weak does little to hinder the Gophers as they currently exist. Given that, why would I as a Gopher fan want our hated rival to experience a level of success that dwarfs any the Gophers have reached in recent years or decades? Why would I want the Badgers to be able to point to a Rose Bowl victory when Minnesota often faces off against them in recruiting battles for the same players?

Sure, it can create some frustrating moments if you're battling in the comments with a SEC homer or a 'Cuse fan trying to claim that Syracuse's 6-6 record is as good as Minnesota's 8-4 record because the ACC is stronger than the B1G. But overall that's really where it ends, as a point of occasional frustration for Gopher fans in internet comment sections or Minnesota expats living in other parts of the country.

When does the perception of the B1G matter for the Gophers?

When it comes to tangible outcomes for the Gopher football team however, such perceptions mean very little right now. The Gophers of last season, this season, and near term future seasons are not playing for national titles. They won't be playing for a berth in the four team playoff. Their recruiting is not based (or at least, has little to do with) the national perception of the Big Ten. To me this line of thinking makes a lot of sense, but to treat it as an immutable truth also seems flawed. After all, don't we all dream of a day when Gopher football reaches a bigger stage? It's that desire to see watch future Gopher teams succeed that got me to the more interesting question. When does the performance or perception of the B1G begin to matter for the Gopher Football program?

Does it only matter if the Gophers when the Gophers are in a position to reach goals that are protected by subjective standards and barriers (i.e. a berth in the four team playoff, the team's first Top 10 ranking in decades, etc)? Should it matter earlier, as time may be needed to build the positive perception that could catapult the Gophers to new heights in terms of public perception? Or does the fact that the Gophers program will likely reach such heights only in special years make worrying about conference perception and performance a pointless pursuit?

I have my own thoughts on the matter, but I'm interested in hearing what all of you have to say first.


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